Children tend to be self-centered by nature. Developmentally speaking, the move toward consistently selfless thinking is something that takes well into adolescence or young adulthood. In fact, many older adults struggle with this concept. I struggle with this concept!
Can we give some careful thought to how we might raise young people who understand selflessness… and the fact that the best way to feel good about oneself is to serve?
Ensure They Have a Foundation of Love and Trust
Narcissism… the ultimate antithesis of selflessness… grows from one of two very different types of soils. The deepest type sprouts from the seeds of abuse, neglect, or chronic criticism, where early in life the child comes to view the world as a dog-eat-dog place.
The first year of life is all about knowing someone loves me enough to consistently meet my physical and emotional needs. When I’m loved in this way, I have the foundation necessary for eventually learning how to selflessly love others.
Children who didn’t have this experience early in life need caring and committed adults… and often highly skilled therapists… who can help them establish this foundation of love and trust.
Teach Them to Serve You and Their Family
Narcissism also springs from the soil of permissiveness and overindulgence. Are your kids working hard to serve you… or are you doing all of the work? Children should not be treated as slaves. They should, however, be expected to do their fair share of work around the house… so they don’t believe their parents are slaves. Too many children look down on their mothers and fathers, viewing them as butlers, maids, and limo drivers, rather than loving authority figures.
Do your kids have a list of contributions (a.k.a. “chores”) that they need to complete by various days or times of the week?
Are you holding them accountable for failing to complete the duties by the prescribed deadlines?
Are you doing this with empathy… rather than anger, lectures, threats, or bribes?
Limit Exposure to Popular Media
Are the relationships portrayed in most television shows, modern movies, and other media, the kinds we want our kids emulating? While we can certainly make a case for kids being exposed to some level of dysfunctional behavior… so that it gives us an opportunity to visit with them about the downsides of such behavior… a steady, unsupervised diet of on-screen narcissism and negativity is certain to make our job of raising selfless kids much harder.
Community Service… As a Privilege Not a Punishment
Too frequently “community service” is viewed as something only done by drunk drivers and others who’ve broken the law. In a Love and Logic home, community service is not designed to be a punishment… it’s intended to be an opportunity… a privilege. It’s intended to be seen as an opportunity to be part of something important, needed, and noble.
Research has demonstrated that kids who serve in their community are far less likely to get involved in high-risk activities such as drug use, sex, gang involvement, etc. They’re also more likely to do well in school.
Great parents occasionally say things like, “This is great! Today we get to go over to the nursing home on Elm Street and read to seniors who can’t see well enough to read for themselves.” Or they say, “The park is trashed. It’s going to feel so good to help out by cleaning it up!”
Great parents also ignore complaining and eye-rolling as they load the family into the car. Just like most things that are good for them, kids often need a bit of prodding to realize how good it feels to help. A friend of mine commented, “They hated it at first. Now they love it. It’s become a real family bonding opportunity.”
Help your kids learn the best way to feel good about oneself is to serve by reading From Innocence to Entitlement.